Date: January 1, 1994
Location: Miami Orange Bowl Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Opponent: Nebraska Cornhuskers
The 1994 Orange Bowl between Florida State and Nebraska was as full of drama as they come. Everyone wants drama in a national championship game, but when it involves your team every moment can make you feel like Schrödinger’s cat. This was felt even more acutely by Florida State fans, who had watched the possibilities collapse into heartbreak more than once on that very field.
But in the 1993 season the stars seemed aligned - FSU had a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Charlie Ward, the nation’s best scoring defense led by Derrick Brooks , and the most heralded kicking prospect in Scott Bentley. Fans could be forgiven if they’ve forgotten they were forced to wait until the last possible moment to find out whether the possibility of Florida State’s first national championship would become reality or just another memory of what could have been. And it all took place in the last 76 seconds of the game.
Nebraska would take a 16-15 lead on a Byron Bennett 27-yard field goal with just 1:16 left in regulation. Florida State would answer Nebraska with their own field goal:
The Seminoles trailed Nebraska 16-15 with just over a minute remaining in the game when Heisman-winning quarterback Charlie Ward drove the FSU offense all the way down to Nebraska’s 3-yard line. With just over 20 seconds remaining in the game, Scott Bentley lined up for his fifth field goal of the game, and the biggest kick in his career and the history of the Seminoles program.
With so much riding on the swing of his right foot, the confident freshman kicker lined up on the right harsh mark near the 10-yard line, took one final look at the goal posts, nodded to his holder Danny Kanell, and with the collective breath of all Seminole faithful held, he split the uprights. Finally.
In any other game that’s the end, right? Not so fast, my friend.
Nebraska returned the kickoff to their own 43 yard-line, just 27 yards from Bennett’s range.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Frazier took the field, and on first down launched it deep down the right sideline to 6’4 receiver Trumane Bell, who was covered by Corey Sawyer. The ball was perfectly placed where only Bell could get it, and it hit him in the hands, but he couldn’t hang on. The catch would have put Nebraska on Florida State’s twenty yard-line.
Bell came off the field, but was immediately thrown back on, where he lined up in the slot to the field side. Frazier took his second drop-back and Bell ran right past a gassed Chris Cowart. Frazier wouldn’t let the opportunity go to waste and hit Bell streaking up the hash mark, where he was tackled by Brooks after a 29 yard gain. The players got up and looked up at the clock.
It read :00.
As he walked calmly across the grass in the moment that held the weight of the culmination of his professional career FSU head coach Bobby Bowden was given a bath, a hat, and a police escort. Schrödinger’s box was open. Florida State looked in, and saw a ring.
But just as quickly as it had opened, the box was cruelly closed again, and reset. What agony. The referees had determined there was one second left on the clock. Nebraska would get a chance at their miracle. Excruciating minutes passed as the officials cleared the field and tried to figure out where to spot the ball.
Nebraska lined up on the Florida State 28 yard-line.
The box opened one last time. Everyone dared to look inside again.
“After two wide rights for the Seminoles, Bowden agonizingly watches one go wide left.”